13May 2024

Public Speaking Tips for Confidence

At the start of a Public Speaking course when I ask the question:
‘What do you want to get out of the day?’
the most common answer is:
And then the attendee goes on to tell me that whenever they need to speak they are always overcome by feelings of nervousness and a lack of confidence.
To which I would normally reply:
‘Congratulations.  You are normal.’
Feeling nervous before speaking is not a failing that needs to be corrected;
it is an essential element that needs to be embraced and incorporated.

Often we equate nerves with a lack of confidence.
However you can be very confident in yourself and your message, but still feel very nervous because you want to do the best job expressing yourself and persuading your audience. That is fine – good, even!
And then you can be totally lacking in self-confidence and not feel any nerves, because the outcome of the presentation is not important to you.  And that is not so good!
So rather than regarding Confidence as some vague attribute that some of us have and others do not, we could define Confidence as
sufficient trust in our ability to get our message across, despite how we feel.
Now, at least, with that definition, rather than chasing after some elusive abstract attribute called Confidence, we have a realistic, and to a degree, measurable concept that we can aspire to and plan for.

My father was a professional violinist and used to say to me:
‘Most of the time a professional musician is either bored to death or scared to death.’
‘Bored to death’ is a problem for any performer, because if you do not have any passion and conviction in what you are doing, why should your audience?
However ‘scared to death’ is only a response to the situation in front of you and if you have the ‘confidence’ to know that:
- you have done the preparation,
- you have done the practice and that
- you have been in a similar situation before and last time you got through OK,
then some of that fear can be translated into passion and conviction.

The key, of course, is doing the proper preparation and doing the right practice in the first place.
Therefore there probably never will be a solution to the problem of:
‘I do not prepare properly, I never practise, and I get nervous when I speak.’

Bearing all that in mind…
10 tips for Developing Confidence in Public Speaking

  1. Structure

Any student who has spent time with me will probably have their eyes rolling to the skies right now.
Structure is not always my answer to every speaking question, but it is to most!
If fear or nervousness are characterised by feelings of overwhelm and confusion and
if a presentation is accompanied by a rush of emotions and a loss of self-control (sometimes quite literally),
then, like Old Mother Hubbard, if you stand up and go to the cupboard to look for support and find
- you are not sure of your first line,
- you cannot remember your argument and
- you are no longer quite clear about your final point, your mind will go blank.
And if you go on to have that experience more than once you will come away thinking:
‘I just cannot do this Public Speaking thing!’

However if you go to the cupboard and in spite of the pressure of the moment,
- you can still see you first line on the top shelf;
- your three key points in order underneath and
- your final message sitting on the bottom shelf,
you have at least got the framework to ‘get through’.

When I was working with school students, I would be regularly asked:
‘What if I forget?’
‘Do you know what your final line is?’
‘Then keep that in front of you all the time, so if you do get lost that last line will act as a reminder to you of why you are speaking and of the content that you planned to use to make your points - and if it turns out that you cannot remember some of the content, it just means that you will just get to your last line a little earlier than you expected!’

I have reached an age when I go to town and for a moment I cannot remember where I am going!  (Should I go left now, go right or straight on?)
All I need is to remember – ‘I am going to the post office’ – and the way becomes clear again.

Are you still not convinced?!

  1. Simplify

If your structure is too involved for you to be able to quickly write it down on the back of an envelope, it is still too complicated for you to carry it safely in your head – and by the way, probably too complicated for your audience to follow.
(Now it is as if you have opened Old Mother Hubbard’s cupboard, and rather than it being bare, you are faced with an overwhelming, disorganised jumble.)
So strip your structure down to a level so simple that it is virtually impossible to forget – hence you will come across the endless rhetorical references to the magic number ‘Three’ - because we can nearly always remember three things.
I remember a woman on a Training the Trainer programme who announced at the beginning of Day 2 that she had done a live experiment the night before.  She told us:
‘I am always sending my husband down to the shops to buy stuff and he usually forgets half of what I ask him to get.  Last night I sent him to get three things and he came back with those three things!’

Now will you be able to deliver a full presentation based on retaining three key ideas, or sections?
Maybe not yet!
But I guarantee if you do not know what those three sections are you will have no chance.

So therefore…

  1. Notes

The amount of notes and the style of notes will vary from speaker to speaker and from task to task.
In principle however, your notes should be whatever is necessary for you to be able to deliver your message freely and confidently. 
If you are fairly new to speaking, that might mean having quite a lot of written support.
Therefore at this stage your practice should entail speaking it through regularly without constantly looking down.
(A presentation full of statistics and data will probably need more notes than a presentation built around stories and experiences.)

Always remember the speech should come from you
and the notes are there to support you. 
If the whole speech is written out word for word, then the speech no longer comes from you,
it comes from your notes and you are no longer a speaker, you are just a reader.
When we feel anxious, we tend to put ’just that little bit extra’ into the notes, to be really sure not to forget.
However, once we start on that, there will always be another line that could be written out - just to be extra safe!
And now we no longer have a speech, we have an essay that we read aloud.
Try to keep your notes down to the minimum necessary to reassure you and to keep you on track.
If you are still unsure, practise regularly using those notes until they become your support rather than your crutch.

  1. Be realistic

If I need to go to a venue that is 10 miles away and I know the way and have a car,
I might plan to leave 15 minutes before I need to arrive and be confident that I will get there on time.
If I have never done the journey and I do not have a car, I will need to leave a lot of extra time to make sure I get there on time.  I might need to take a detailed map with me as the route is new to me
and if I need to go on foot I must be sure I leave early enough. 
In fact, if I have prepared properly for all eventualities, I will probably arrive half an hour early.
Sometimes a student will point to a politician or to their Managing Director, who seems to be able to speak fluently without notes and at short notice.
I need to remind them that those people have probably already said their content hundreds of times at different meetings and in different formats – they know the way, as they have taken that route or one similar many times before.  Over time they have done plenty of practice and preparation.
If you are new to the subject or new to speaking, you will need to take more time to prepare.
That is your unique journey and you need to be realistic about what it takes for you to perform well.

I remember a bank executive from abroad who after two sessions with me said he wanted to deliver his speech, like I do, without notes.
I had to point out that I had been speaking longer than he had, that I knew my subject very well – and so was not saying the words for the first time, and that very significantly I was also speaking in my ‘mother-tongue’, so that if I forgot a word, I would probably find another word or another way of expressing my thoughts.
For him it would be realistic, to have more complete notes and then to practise regularly so that he was not completely dependent on them.

  1. Your message matters

A very human mistake is to believe that ‘other people’ just have confidence and we do not.  Mostly, other people ‘seem’ confident or maybe have simply learned to give that impression: inside they probably feel just as unsure as we do.
It may be elusive to quickly build self-confidence, but it is not so difficult to learn to feel confident about the value of what you are saying. 
Why am I speaking?  Why is it important?  How does it help? 
A simple Health and Safety briefing is important because it might save someone’s life.
Even though that is true, it might feel like a remote outcome to you and to your listeners. 
So how can paying attention help your listeners today?
Maybe because paying attention will mean that at the next fire drill, everyone will know what to do and therefore we can all get back to what we should be doing that much quicker.
If I feel there is some value in what I am going to say – even if it is only a small benefit - I will feel much more comfortable about standing up and saying it.
Therefore part of the preparation for speaking should always be about working out how your message benefits your audience...
which therefore means it is important to understand that…

  1. …You don’t matter (that much)

If the presentation is all about me - how I look and how I sound – I don’t think I am going to feel very confident.
If the presentation is all about what I want to say and how that will impact my audience, then I am no longer quite as important.  In fact if I have a strong clear message and even if I deliver it badly I will still have succeeded in the main aim of my presentation.

These first six tips are all about preparation and planning.
However, there is still that moment when you have to get up and speak!

Prepare your mind

  1. Visualise

I remember someone dismissing visualisation and self-talk as telling yourself lies.
Of course it is!
If the picture you are painting for yourself is already true and happening, you won’t need to create it in your mind.
The reason we visualise a ‘successful’ presentation, a strong opening, and an audience that is engaged and attentive throughout is because we do not feel confident in that actually being the case.
Therefore playing a game of ‘as if’ will help us into a frame of mind where we have a better chance of performing well.

  1. Self-Talk

This is Visualisation’s first cousin.  It can feel unnatural until you realise you are constantly talking to yourself already.  In fact, the reason you are not feeling very confident is because you have spent a lot of time telling yourself that presenting is hard and that you are not very good at it.
Try to imagine you are someone else and you are that person’s coach or friend.
What would you be saying to that person as they are getting ready?
You will be great.  You can do this.  I believe in you.  The audience will love (appreciate?) what you have to say.

  1. Breathe

Breathe deeply and slowly.  I am always fascinated by rugby kickers.  They have just been charging around the pitch, highly energised, hitting and being hit and now with the additional pressure of the crowd looking on only at them they need to slow everything inside down and concentrate on kicking a strange-shaped ball between two sticks 30 meters away.  You can see them consciously taking control of their breathing in order to achieve the calm they need to perform their task.
Concentrating on your breathing as well as gaining some control will at the very least help distract you from any fear that you are feeling.

  1. Build on past success

If you have spoken successfully before, try to recapture that feeling.  If you have developed a routine for preparation, enact it.  If you have not had direct experience can you borrow your confidence from similar situations, sporting events, music, or drama, a best man’s speech, a friend’s birthday?

In the end, Confidence is an inside job.
(i)         Take the time to prepare and prepare thoroughly
(ii)         Create, recall, or borrow feelings of success to give you confidence just before you start
(iii)        Focus your thoughts on what really matters: on them not on you.

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Michael's superb training style is underpinned by an incredible depth of knowledge and experience. Like all true experts, he delivers what he knows with ease and simplicity, exampling the skills he is teaching as he does so.

Very informative and great anecdotes which illustrated points and provided visual markers.

The most interesting training that I have ever taken part in! Experience + Wisdom + Perfect teaching approach.

The training was spot on. He really listened to us and customised his responses throughout.

Loved the creation of visual examples through the use of body and how relating the experience really helps demonstrate the message.

Very approachable and motivational. So much information, brilliantly delivered.

Loads of great analogies and stories - very friendly and helpful.

Very approachable and knowledgeable and good use of examples to simplify the material.

In just one day Michael was able to teach a class of children how to craft their own personal stories and experiences into powerful and engaging speeches that resonate with an adult audience as well as with a younger audience. It is a marvellous way to help them increase self-confidence and in the process - almost without them even realising it - become natural speakers and excellent communicators.

Michael has a style of speaking which draws the audience into his world, captivates them and leaves them with lasting memories of some of the descriptive phrases he has used and the information he has included. He also has the ability to pass the skills he uses in his own speaking on to those he trains.

Very good rapport, attention to detail, individual support, positive atmosphere and encouragement - a great place for learning.

• Very great example; how to express yourself, how to be engaging and how to match body language with what is said.